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A Month of Pulitzer Prize Winning Cartoons – Day 5

I thought it would be an interesting look into our nation’s political cartoon history if, this month, I took a look at a different editorial cartoon each day that won the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning. Do note that we’re talking basically 1922-1967 here, as since then, the Committee has awarded cartoonists generally for their work, not for an exemplary single cartoon. So in many ways, this is a snapshot of American politics (for better or for worse) over a forty-five year period.

Today we look at Herbert “Herblock” Block’s 1954 award-winning cartoon.


I featured Herbert “Herblock” Block during the Month of Political Cartooning Stars. He was a legendary cartoonist, who worked as a national cartoonist long enough that he had professional cartoons making fun of every U.S. President from Herbert Hoover to George W. Bush.

Herblock won his second Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning with this piece, which was produced following Joseph Stalin’s death in March of 1953.

It’s a brilliantly illustrated cartoon, and the bit with the Soviet sickle being like Death’s reaper is a particularly inspired touch.

Do I really have to give the context behind this cartoon?

Joseph Stalin was born in 1878, and before his death in 1953, he had helped make the Soviet Union a major world power and was personally responsible for well over three million deaths (over a million by executions alone).

So Herblock was certainly not speaking out of turn.


OOOH I like this one.

WELL over three million deaths. Ten million in Ukraine alone, by some estimates. Not counting losses in the Second World War which were upwards of twenty million (again, by some estimates.)

So yes, Death knew Stalin very well.

Matthew Johnson

March 6, 2009 at 7:24 am

Incidentally, Walt Kelly (who was a friend of Herblock’s) felt that this cartoon should not have won the Pulitzer because it was too “safe” in its sympathies — I mean, who was going to defend Joe Stalin? Kelly’s preferred choice was another Herblock cartoon in which the “Atomic Bum,” Herblock’s personification of the Bomb, dressed as Robinson Crusoe, comes upon a footprint in the sand (referring to the Soviet Union’s first successful bomb test.)

WELL over three million deaths.

Way I figure it, people dispute a lot of the figures over Stalin, but no one really disputes the three million amount, and since “only” killing three million people is still killing an insane amount of people, I went with that.

I think Kelly was spot on with his critique, Matthew.

With total respect to Walt Kelly and Brian, this cartoon about Stalin’s death deserved the Pulitzer prize. Not because it was safe but because it was so eloquent. Millions of deaths acknowledged and mourned in one simple, even beautiful image. It has stayed with me most of my life.

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